As the paramount raccoon I am hosting this press conference to explain and apologize rather than justify. I understand we raccoons stand rather low in the eyes of you humans who consider us stealthy and untrustworthy creatures because we wear bandit black masks across our eyes. Our physical stature is also uninspiring as we usually measure no more than a foot high at the shoulder, two feet in length, and twenty pounds. Our most celebrated exposure came several decades ago, in the era of open cars, when hundreds of thousands of us were annually slaughtered to make long chic coats for keeping people warm. We also got some publicity a half century ago when the televised Davy Crockett donned his coon skin cap. Years later, Davy’s cap was revealed to have been made of something else. Few people noticed or cared, and it’s improbable any of you would be thinking about raccoons now unless one of us had recently attacked a well-conditioned martial artist and chewed hell out of him.
I’m confident Ian Smith, a thirty-year old who kick boxes regularly, wasn’t focusing on raccoons as he drove his daughter, age eight, and an adult friend to the California Living Museum about fifteen miles east of Bakersfield, California. Mr. Smith has been a member there half his life and knows the small zoo houses – imprisons, actually – some creatures with considerable star power: a brown bear, a bald eagle, and bobcats. Even coyotes and poisonous snakes get more attention than raccoons. If Smith has studied us, however, he may have been impressed we can stand steadily on our hind legs while adroitly examining objects with our “hyper sensitive” front paws, and that we rapidly climb trees then, reversing the direction of our back feet, walk headfirst down the trees. He would have been duly alarmed by our forty long and sharp teeth filling a nastier mouth than that of most dogs.
I hope Mr. Smith is aware of our formidable intellectual qualities. Indeed, raccoons have proven they can “open eleven of thirteen complex locks in less than ten tries and have no problems repeating the action when the locks are rearranged or turned upside down.” Try that sometime soon, if you please. We have also proven we’re “able to instantly differentiate between identical and different symbols three years after the short initial learning phase.” I suggest some of your economists undergo similar training.
I want Mr. Smith, and all of you here today, to know that we raccoons are not the miserable, solitary creatures we’re portrayed to be. A few related females often live together, in an expansive common area, as unrelated males do elsewhere. It’s usually only mothers who “isolate themselves from other raccoons until their kits are big enough to defend themselves.” We’re also adept at “collective eating, sleeping and playing.” I’m certain many people, especially the readers of supermarket tabloids, will be delighted to learn that during our late January to mid-March mating season impassioned males “roam their home ranges in search of females” and delight them with gentlemanly foreplay and copulation that “lasts over an hour and is repeated over several nights.” To ensure procreation, one third of females mate with more than one ardent male. To avoid inbreeding, males usually leave the home range.
All right, stop grumbling. I know you didn’t come to hear how wonderful we are. Let’s talk about the unfortunate attack. I condemn the renegade raccoon, who had been a pet before his owner donated him to the zoo. Before being cleared for rabies he was held in a temporary cage and from there he escaped, eluded the search party, and Sunday before last charged the young daughter of Ian Smith and bit her pants leg. Mr. Smith, as bravely as any raccoon mother – fathers take no part in our upbringing – picked up his daughter and began battering the raccoon with his expert kicks. I assume Mr. Smith’s kicks hurt human opponents but they did not faze my fellow raccoon. Handing his daughter to his friend, who rushed to the museum office, Mr. Smith established a stable base from which he launched what he described as the hardest kicks of his life. Still the raccoon tore into him. Mr. Smith tried to climb above the fray, onto a tree branch, which regrettably broke, leaving the young martial artist prone on the ground where the raccoon at once tore off one of his shoes then attempted the coup de grace – a slash of the neck. Thankfully, the well-trained Mr. Smith thrust his arms up and, while at least protecting his jugular vein, suffered multiple deep bites to his fingers, one of which was almost severed. Mr. Smith, despite his background as a striker, instinctively realized, however belatedly, that tactical change was critical, and, like a grappler, threw his weight onto the raccoon and pinned it as museum officials and another visitor ran in to help. Bleeding heavily, Mr. Smith was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.
His most severely damaged finger was saved, his other cuts are healing, and, while he recovers, sleeplessly, at home, he’s justifiably upset that museum officials didn’t warn visitors that a raccoon was on the loose. Why didn’t they? Don’t communities receive warnings when human convicts escape? When one of us is loose in people-inhabited areas, including a zoo, there should be an official alarm. Mr. Smith is correct that unattended children could’ve been killed. It’s most fortunate his daughter escaped with but a scratch. We’re tough and aggressive critters who break into poultry houses and eat chickens and ducks and their eggs and their feed and storm into tents when we’re hungry or merely curious. You can kill as many of us as you want – as the above-mentioned raccoon was captured and quite correctly euthanized – but all your studies have proven we instinctively increase our rate of reproduction when our numbers dwindle.
You don’t want to eliminate us anyway. We’re part of the natural balance you define and fun to shoot. Maybe there’s a sliver of luck in being selected for life in a zoo, where raccoons sometimes live for twenty years. In the wild the average is but two or three years. Also, this zoo offers a cage that I call rural chic, featuring several hollowed out sections of trees that we favor, both vertical and horizontal, branches to walk on, a very fine stone wading pool, and hammocks where my two fellow raccoons are lounging today. I commend people for offering us a finer prison than we would ever offer you. But I cannot forget that your bald eagle, so noble when viewed straight on yet so sad in profile, will never soar again, nor will the four-hundred-fifty pound brown bear lumber through a forest, nor the bobcats dash across mountains, pouncing on prey. That’s why I think you should forever close all zoos. If you want to see animals, visit them in the wild.